Friday, January 23, 2015

Loose Feathers #478

Rock Pigeon (my photo)
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Monday, January 19, 2015

2014 Birding Year in Review

Black-billed Cuckoo at Highland Park Meadows
This comes a little late, but as Nick wrote, bird bloggers are obligated to write a year-in-review post. So here it goes. As far as I can tell, 2014 was the first year since I started birding that I did not record any life birds. However, I did have some success locally and found eight new birds in Middlesex County.

Species Place Date
Red-necked Grebe Edison Boat Launch 15 Feb 2014
Hooded Warbler Donaldson Park 07 May 2014
Short-billed Dowitcher South Amboy Waterworks Park 10 May 2014
Black-billed Cuckoo Highland Park Meadows 22 May 2014
Alder Flycatcher Highland Park Meadows 22 May 2014
Philadelphia Vireo Ayres Beach 19 Sep 2014
Sedge Wren Donaldson Park 20 Oct 2014
Orange-crowned Warbler Ayres Beach 24 Oct 2014

I ended 2014 with 243 species in Middlesex County, which is more than I thought was possible when I started to focus more on county birding a few years ago and 200 seemed like a distant goal. I also saw some new birds in neighboring counties, including nine in Somerset County and six in Union County.

According to eBird's new Target Species feature, my next ten birds in Middlesex are likely to be:
  1. Barnacle Goose
  2. Northern Shoveler
  3. Pectoral Sandpiper
  4. Eastern Meadowlark
  5. Mourning Warbler
  6. Cattle Egret
  7. Snow Bunting
  8. Ring-necked Pheasant
  9. Black Tern
  10. Yellow-throated Warbler
I am not sure that I agree with that list, but those birds seem as likely as any others that I have not yet seen in this county.

Red-necked Grebe in a snowstorm at Edison Boat Basin
For the most part, chasing rare birds took a back seat to another project: the 100 Bird Challenge. I wanted to improve my bird photography skills, for my own satisfaction and also so that I would have an easier time documenting rare birds. So early last year I decided to try a photo big year, but with a set species goal of 100 bird species. I did not know at the time whether that was a reasonable goal, but it meant that there would be two measures of success: reaching the species goal and improving the quality of my bird photos.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Fairview Farm Wildlife Preserve
With regard to the first goal, I easily surpassed 100 species and ended the year with 140 species photographed. My 100 species was the Ruby-throated Hummingbird shown above, which I photographed on July 12th.

American Coot at Donaldson Park
In terms of improving quality, the results were mixed. Towards the end of last year, I took some pretty good photos, like the American Coot shown above. But even then, I was still producing bad photos of species that were too distant, out of focus, or simply uncooperative.

Orange-crowned Warbler at Ayres Beach
However, attempting the challenge did push me to try photographing birds that I would not have attempted to photograph before, such as small, fast-moving warblers. As a result, I was able to document two of my three Orange-crowned Warbler sightings when an unusually numerous wave pushed through the region last fall.

Eastern Bluebird gathering nest material at Glenhurst Meadows
I enjoyed the 100 Bird Challenge enough that I am going to try it again this year, but this time with a higher goal of 150 birds.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Loose Feathers #477

Eurasian Wigeon (my photo)
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Friday, January 09, 2015

Loose Feathers #476

Golden Eagle / Photo by Tom Koerner (USFWS)
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Friday, December 26, 2014

Loose Feathers #475

Mallards / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Loose Feathers #474

Razorbills / USFWS Photo
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Note: Scientific American recently cut a large number of blogs from its science blog network. Here is a rundown of who is staying and who is leaving.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Loose Feathers #473

Whooping Cranes follow ultralights leaving Alabama / Photo by Heather Ray, Operation Migration
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Friday, December 05, 2014

Loose Feathers #472

Mallard / Photo by Tom Koerner (USFWS)
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Friday, November 28, 2014

Loose Feathers #471

Great Egret / Photo by Steve Hillebrand (USFWS)
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Loose Feathers #470

Greater Sage-Grouse / Photo by Tom Koerner (USFWS)
Birds and birding news
  • There is speculation that the reintroduction programs for California Condors and Black-footed Ferrets may have driven those endangered species' species-specific parasites to extinction.
  • Scientists investigating the genetic basis for feathers have identified 193 genes that contribute to feather development, and some of them were present in vertebrates long before birds evolved.
  • Fur seals have been recorded sexually harassing penguins and then (in some cases) eating them.
  • New York City has been the entry point for numerous introduced and invasive species, including the ubiquitous House Sparrow and European Starling.
  • Last week, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse was given threatened status under the Endangered Species Act. Whether Greater Sage-Grouse will be listed as well is still undecided.
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